If one were to identify the top problems in the areas 40 miles north and south of Salt Lake City, most people would name air pollution among the top five.  Six counties in Utah have been graded “F” in “State of Air 2013” according to the report issued by American Lung Association. Throughout many years, for quite a number of days each year, inversion, a phenomenon characterized by haze, hangs over valleys in Utah, causing health problems for young and old alike – especially those who are troubled by bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma.

The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) estimates that more than 150 million people live in places that fall short of standard set up by National Ambient Air Quality Standards. Each year, up to 30,000 premature deaths in the US can be attributed to fine particulate matter, one of the six main air pollutants. Globally, data published by World Health Organization shows that 2 million people die every year because of degraded air quality.

The largest single source of air pollution in the United States is no doubt transportation, which accounts for nearly two-thirds of the carbon monoxide, a third of the nitrogen oxides,  and a quarter of the hydrocarbons in our atmosphere according to a report by the EPA.

Clean vehicle and improved fuel technologies can significantly reduce air pollution. One way to address the pollution caused by gas-fuelled cars is to move toward electrically-powered automobiles.  As it stands, Walgreens and other institutions with customers and/or employees help by providing charging stations to those with electric cars.

At present, the average one-way daily commute for workers across the country is 25.5 minutes according to the statistics provided by U.S. Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey. Most people drive fewer than 50 miles a day-well within the range of most electric vehicles, which typically can travel between 50 and 80 miles. More excitingly, new projections by the Electrification Coalition states that the cost of owning an electric car is coming more and more competitive with its gas-powered peers. If more charging stations are available near our homes, workplaces and shopping malls, we can actually replace the gasoline-powered cars with electric cars, though a nationwide infrastructure is still far away.

Shale gas is a kind of natural gas trapped in the shale formations and an increasingly crucial source of energy supply in the future. Although shale gas accounts for only 20 percentages of the natural gas in U.S now, it could expand to 50 percentages by 2035 and make the electrical power industry double its use of natural gas (where else we got electricity ?).

Evidence shows that Utah can take progressive steps to address transportation issues.  The legislature acted to help

alternative-fuelled vehicles.  Senate Bill 275, signed by Governor Gary Herbert on March 28, 2013, possibly will
impact the future structure of the vehicle market in Utah. According to the general description of the bill, it is aimed to “facilitate the conversion to alternative fuel vehicles and the provision of facilities for alternative fuel vehicles”. A governing body will be created to manage the conversion procedure and required facilities. Apart from this new government branch, the bill also directs the Public Service Commission to initiate new measures for cleaner air and provide a new cost recovery mechanism for natural gas corporations.

Some organizations, such as Calstart, a non-profit organization, actually can help major employers, shopping centers and others to install electrical vehicle chargers and promote electrical vehicles through subsidized purchasing programs funded by participating companies and other supporters.

A clean transportation industry will lead to cleaner air, less air pollutants and greenhouse gas, secure our transportation energy future, and probably promote job growth.

John Hoffmire teaches at SaÏd Business School at the University of Oxford. Hong Ding helped prepare this op-ed.

See the full text of Utah S. B. 275 Act Now